TAK FOR ALT is a one-hour documentary about Holocaust survivor Judy Meisel. The film follows Judy back to Eastern Europe, from her pre-war childhood in a Lithuanian shtetl to her escape and liberation in Denmark. The film then shifts to her life in the United States, as an activist and an educator, drawing on her experiences to exact modern social change.
In 1963, Judy Meisel was watching the evening news from her Philadelphia home. A story came on about an African American family who had moved into an all-white suburb. On the screen, a mob of angry rioters shouted racial slurs and threw rocks at the family’s home. Judy was shocked. She was overcome by childhood memories of Lithuania and the night German soldiers dragged her and her family from her home. A shouting throng of Lithuanian neighbors cheered as Judy and the other Jews were marched to the Jewish ghetto.
As a new American and a young mother of three, Judy seldom spoke of her teenage years in the Kovno ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp. But the images on the screen shocked her. She realized that persecution was flourishing here and now in the United States. At that moment, Judy resolved to break her silence. She became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and began telling her story of the Holocaust, as an example of what racism can lead to when it goes unchecked.
Judy Meisel was born Judith Beker in Jasvene, a shtetl in Lithuania where almost 150 of her relatives also lived. After the death of her father, her mother, Mina, moved the family (including Judith and her older sister Rachel and brother Abe) to the big city of Kovno, where she could find work. In 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, and Judy went to a Russian school and had to keep her family’s practicing of the Jewish rituals a secret.
The following year, the Nazis invaded Lithuania. Judy and her family were forced into the Kovno Ghetto, on the other side of the river. Food was scarce, and twelve-year-old Judy used to slip out of the ghetto's barbed wire fences to smuggle food into the ghetto. Forced into slave labor, Judy worked in a factory that made boots for the German army. She remembers what it was like to see dead bodies in the ghetto through the eyes of a child.
Judy's family was put on a transport to Stutthof Concentration Camp. There, she watched the Nazis take her brother away, and stood helplessly outside the gas chamber as her mother was killed. When the Nazis wanted to liquidate the camp, Judy and her sister Rachel ended up on a death march out of Stutthof in the dead of winter. During an Allied air raid, they escaped from the march and snuck across a field to seek help from a nearby farmhouse. With the help of a Russian POW, they disguised themselves as Catholics and crawled across the frozen Vistula to a convent. After a few days at the convent, their identity was discovered. Pressured by the nuns to convert to Catholicism, they left the convent and ended up working at a German Wermacht station, serving Nazi soldiers.
Judy and her sister joined a group of Germans fleeing the advancing allies, and arrived by boat in Denmark. Once in Copenhagen, Judy and Rachel realized that all of the Danish Jews had been rescued and were living in neutral Sweden.
Judy recalls how surprised she was to hear the story of the rescue. Standing at Copenhagen harbor, she remembers the day she watched the Jews return from Sweden. After all she had gone through because she was Jewish, she could not believe she had come to a place where non-Jews had risked their lives to save their fellow Danes. She realized that Danish Jews were seen as neighbors in need, instead of a hated group of outsiders.
Judy and her sister were taken in by a Danish couple, Poula and Sven Jensen, who nursed them back to health. Judy then moved to the United States, where she married and had a family.
Now 73 years old, Judy has truly witnessed human nature at its extremes of cruelty and kindness. When addressing students around the country, Judy speaks at length about the Danes and how they managed to save their Jewish citizens, smuggling them across to neutral Sweden in the holds of fishing boats. She uses this example to encourage students to stand up against racism in their own communities.